Tenants as Housing Experts?- what a thought!

root - Posted on 20 November 2008

Residents of the California Hotel take over management of their own hotel and all they need is our support!

by Tiny

The building and the street around The California Hotel in Oakland was full of shadows. Shadows that whispered stories of past lives, glamour and tragedy from its ancient brick walls. The first time I saw The California Hotel was many years ago and I was both scared and comforted by its vast-ness that seemed to envelope San Pablo avenue from all directions. Scared because of its sheer enormity and comforted because it was the first chance for inside-ness for me and my poor mama after a long stretch of being vehicularily housed, police-harassed and outside.

Since the recent struggle of California Hotel residents to stay housed and now the triumph of their self-management launch, I thought back on my first day at the California and how nice it was to have a roof, albeit roach-filled and rodent infested.

In 1991 while my mama and I were still dealing with homelessness we watched as the California Hotel was closed for a $9 million dollar renovation and then re-opened as a Single Room Occupancy Hotel - with on-site supportive services managed by Oakland Community Housing, Inc.,(OCHI) a non-profit housing developer. The windows were new and shiny and the paint was fresh.

It seemed like a dream come true for many of the very poor elders who we re re-housed there after the renovation. Safety, cleanliness, and overall management had been ongoing problems before the renovation which were now supposedly all dealt with.

That said, my mother and I felt an uneasy-ness in our gut. Renovation, renewal, redevelopment, these "re" words were never safe for poor folks and more often than not they were extremely dangerous. HUD's HOPE VI project was fond of using the "re" words when they demolished over 90% of their housing only to replace them with mixed income housing units that only housed certain people- most of whom didnt live there before it was "re'd" including our friend that had housed us for a minute, because he hadn't "complied" with his case managers many requests for documents.

Renewal, redevelopment and one for one replacement are almost always myths for poor people of color and like the ongoing redevelopment efforts of West Oakland and The Bayview - we never seem to last into the next "re".

As the recent mismanagement scandal with OCHI resulting in eviction notices being served on the all 72 of the disabled and elder residents of the Hotel and subsequent terrifying raids by the Oakland Police Department, I could only imagine my poor mama Dee (she passed in March of 2006) shaking her head in that "I told you so" way she always did.

But then I found out about the resistance of the tenants,and how they launched an effort to do what all poor people of color are completely capable of doing, but rarely given the opportunity to realize, a chance to self-manage our living spaces. A dream that POOR has been struggling to realize for over 10 years in our HOMEFULNESS Project, but still hasn't raised funding for.

As poor folks we are constantly told we need someone else to manage our housing, manage our books, manage our little bits of money and manage our lives, because it is assumed, we can't be trusted to do it for ourselves. I find this ironic, not only in light of the California Hotel mismanagement by oh so many so-called experts, and the tenants recent successful self-management but also because as poor folks, people of color, indigenous folks, we have been successful stewards of land and property and community for hundreds of years.

On July 30th the California Hotel tenants and their advocates at Just Cause Oakland won a victory when Alameda County Superior Court Judge Keller granted them another 30 days before ruling on whether or not they may continue to reside in their housing.

Perhaps if the tenants were given a portion of the financial support that corporations like John Stewart and OCHI received to manage properties like the California Hotel, the tenants could handle their own management just fine.

Drop by the California Hotel and support the residents with your donations of supplies and dollars!


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